The Chevron refinery in Richmond is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for detouring pollutants around monitoring equipment and burning them into the atmosphere, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The practice occurred for four years and may have been in violation of a court order, the paper reported.
The bypass pipe, discovered by investigators from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, was fashioned by the refinery and was used to move hydrocarbon gases around air monitoring be burned off in flares without officials knowing about it, according to the Chronicle.
"Federal criminal investigators are trying to determine who at Chevron was aware of the bypass pipe and whether the company used it intentionally to deceive air-pollution regulators," the Chronicle said. Chevron said use of the pipe was inadvertent and that the sulfur dioxide released was minimal, according to the paper.
"Bypassing the flare monitoring system is serious, whether it was negligent or intentional," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who also is chair of the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
In an interview with Patch, he also questioned whether the $170,000 in fines assessed by the district against Chevron for two violations was sufficient for what has been discovered.
In 2007, the air district announced it had reached agreement with Bay Area refinies prohibiting the non-emergency use of flaring outside of an approved Flare Minimization Plan. A copy of the district announcment is attached to this article.
Public alarm about toxic emissions from the Richmond refinery was amplified by a large fire at the refinery on Aug. 6 that spewed a giant plume over many square miles, resulted in a shelter-in-place orders and saw thousands of people seek treatment at local hospitals.
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